Wednesday, April 11, 2018 / Perth Australia / By Niekie Jooste
In this edition of "The WelderDestiny Compass":
Since the start of the industrial revolution, people have feared for their jobs as the new machines that were introduced resulted in increased productivity. This naturally resulted in a reduction in jobs in many industries. At the start of the industrial revolution, most people were employed in farming. It took a great deal of people to grow the food required. Now, only a very small percentage of people in developed economies are employed in the farming industry.
The standard answer supplied by proponents of automation is that other industries will arise that can supply jobs. History has proven this to be correct so far, but each generation feels like their situation is unique, and surely the latest advances in automation will result in the jobs Armageddon that has been prophesied by so many.
The thing is that it is difficult to give any assurances, because nobody really knows what the next growth industry will be, and what jobs will be in demand. Seeing as our beat here at The WelderDestiny Compass revolves around the welding industry, and Welders in particular, I think there is some signs of an industry that promises to throw some jobs our way. I am referring to the space industry.
The space industry has been around for a while, but it was more of a drain on resources than a contributor to the world's economy. In fact, since the 1970's, following the moon landings, the space industry has been in a funk. NASA, the agency that put people on the moon, no longer even has the capability to take people into orbit.
The sign that things are changing, is the privatisation of the space industry. There are now a number of private organisations that are developing capabilities to put people in orbit around earth, and to take them even further. Private companies will not be developing these capabilities if they do not see profit in it. Once profit becomes possible in an industry, it grows and becomes sustainable.
While some interesting "experiments" have been done in zero gravity, the real money in space travel has really been in placing satellites into earth orbit. Communication satellites can quickly make their money back, even though it is very expensive to get them up there in the first place. There are however other lucrative sources of income for space companies.
Today we take a look at the growing space industry and wonder if it has the potential to provide us in the welding industry with some work prospects.
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Now let's get stuck into this week’s topics...
The low hanging fruit for any industry is to go after the few people that can afford to pay huge sums of money to achieve a goal. Space tourism is the low hanging fruit at this moment.
I only realised that space tourism was a thing, when in 2002 a South African entrepreneur called Mark Shuttleworth paid the Russian an astronomical amount to take him into earth orbit on one of their missions. Apparently he had not been the only one. The price tag for such a trip is however hefty. Apparently between 20 to 40 million US dollars.
To cater to this market, a number of companies are looking at developing space tourism. One of the main proponents being Virgin Galactic, but there are others. One of these other companies has claimed that by 2022 they will have an orbiting "hotel". Actually more like a cramped apartment, but we wont get too particular about it all. At any rate, they will be offering the round trip, along with a week's stay in the space hotel, for around 10 million dollars per person.
The thinking is that within a further 10 years or so, the price could be as low as US$10 000. This is within reach of most "middle class" people for a "holiday of a lifetime".
SpaceX is one of the other big private contenders in the space race. They are already carrying cargo into earth orbit, and using re-usable rockets to do so. Their stated aim is to colonise Mars within the next few decades. An earth impact by a large asteroid, could potentially be an extinction level event for humanity, so by having another planet colonised, we increase our chances of survival.
There will be a lot of people that will pay a lot of money for a trip to Mars as well!
One of the biggest potential money spinners is asteroid mining. To get an idea of the type of money we are talking about, consider 511 Davida.
511 Davida is a giant asteroid orbiting the sun in the asteroid belt. the asteroid belt is situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is estimated that the minerals in that single asteroid has a value of US$15 quintillion.
To put that in perspective, the world's GDP is around $80 trillion. So, the value of that single asteroid is 192000 times greater than global GDP.
There are a number of companies that are developing business models to pursue asteroid mining. Commercially this is still decades away, but the plans are being made in parallel with the development of the space transport technology.
Such a fat prize will eventually be pursued. It is just too good to be left out there all alone!
Maybe Mars will be the base from which such mining operations could take place. Gives another spin to the fly-in fly-out job market.
The big change that is driving down the price of space travel is the development of re-usable rocket components. The NASA operated space shuttle was ostensibly reusable, but a great deal of the fuel tanks were not reused, and even the reused components required such extensive refurbishment that it was actually cheaper to use single shot space ships, like the Russians and Europeans.
The new reusable designs are still in the early days, but they appear to be doing what they were intended to. They are making the space trips significantly cheaper than before.
The upshot of the reusable space ship movement is that space fleets start operating more like aircraft fleets. They will have relatively speedy turnarounds, which means that their revenue generating capacity increases greatly. They will then have maintenance schedules like aircraft where maintenance and repairs will be required.
The moment large structures need maintenance and repair, then we can be certain that welding will follow. Obviously this will not be rough and ready large deposition rate welding, but it will be welding none-the-less. While some of it will be automated, some of it will be much more efficient if performed manually by highly skilled human welders.
Maybe their mining equipment on the far side of Mars will also need welding repairs. Anyone keen on becoming a space Welder?
Yours in welding
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